Bukowski, Charles (Vol. 108)
Charles Bukowski 1920–1994
(Henry Charles Bukowski, Jr.) German-born American poet, novelist, and short story writer.
The following entry provides an overview of Bukowski's career. For additional information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 2, 5, 9, 41, and 82.
Charles Bukowski appears in many of his own works, in the quasi-anagrammaticalalter ego of Henry Chinaski, who takes on many varied personas. Some of these personas have been labeled by the critic Glenn Esterly in describing Bukowski: "… poet, novelist, short story writer, megalomaniac, lush, philanderer, living legend recluse, classical music aficionado, scatologist, loving father, sexist, physical wreck, jailbird, pain in the ass, genius, finagling horse player, outcast, antitraditionalist, brawler and ex-civil servant…." Others would add a description of a caring, sensitive man with a finely-honed, self-deprecating sense of humor. Chinaski, like Bukowski, is able to step back and poke fun at his drunken, womanizing, excessively macho character. Avoiding maudlin sentimentality, Bukowski nevertheless brings a caring humanity to his characters who are typically outcasts living on the fringes of society. His sympathy comes from a perspective that success and failure are more a result of luck and social injustice than reflections of a person's worth. Bukowski's feelings for these characters is visible in the words of the lead character Belane from his last novel, Pulp (1994): "Of course, there were a lot of good people sleeping in the streets. They weren't fools, they just didn't fit into the needed machinery of the moment."
Born August 16, 1920, in Andernach, Germany, Bukowski was brought to the United States by his family at the age of two. He grew up in the Los Angeles area, experiencing a brutal, unhappy childhood. His father, Henry Charles Bukowski, Sr., was a strict authoritarian who "disciplined" the young Bukowski regularly with a razor strop. A slight child, scarred by acne and boils, he was also victimized by schoolyard bullies. Bukowski often underplayed the cruelty of his father, suggesting that Charles Sr. helped harden him for survival in a cruel, brutal world. Bukowski began attending Los Angeles City College in 1939, but dropped out at the beginning of World War II and moved to New York with the aspiration of becoming a writer. He spent the next few years working a variety of menial jobs and writing, without publishing success. Some critics have suggested his failure was a result of sending his work to inappropriate markets such as Harper's Magazine. Disgusted, he gave up writing entirely in 1946 and began a ten-year period of heavy drinking. The result, described in the short story collection Life and Death in the Charity Ward (1974), was a bleeding ulcer that nearly killed him. Bukowski took his survival as a sign of purpose and began writing again. Bukowski also credits his drinking with helping provide part of his artistic perspective. He said, "Drinking is an emotional thing. It joggles you out of the standardism of everyday life, out of everything being the same. It yanks you out of your body and your mind and throws you up against the wall. I have the feeling that drinking is a form of suicide where you're allowed to return to life and begin all over the next day. It's like killing yourself, and then you're reborn. I guess I've lived about ten or fifteen thousand lives now." The critic Loss Glazier alludes to this when he says, "He was able to turn his hand to fiction with a perspective unequaled in contemporary American letters. He had been through a stripping-down that would've killed any ordinary person. And yet Bukowski, rather than being weakened by each successive defoliation, seemed to get stronger with the knowledge of what was necessary."
Bukowski was first published in the underground magazines and small presses, gaining a reputation largely by word of mouth. His first book of poetry, Flower, Fist, and Bestial Wail (1959), deals with common Bukowski themes of abandonment, desolation, and the absurdities of life and death. The subject matter of drinking, gambling, music, and sex was considered offensive by many critics, but others hailed his crisp, authentic voice. The collection It Catches My Heart in its Hands (1963), a selection of poems written between 1955 and 1963, deals with topics such as rerolled cigarette butts, winning at the races, and high-priced call girls. In a review of the work, the poet Kenneth Rexroth said that Bukowski "belongs in that small company of poets of real, not literary, alienation." Bukowski wrote over forty other books of poetry. In addition to poetry, he wrote several novels, drawing on experiences in his own life for subject matter. Post Office (1971) dealt with his years as a letter carrier and mail sorter, and explored the oppression of petty bureaucracy and the numbing effect of mindless, hard work. The character Chinaski's refusal to go along with the program, to play the game, made the novel an anthem for the oppressed underdog. In Ham on Rye (1982), a younger Chinaski is the protagonist. Bukowski's semi-autobiography deals with Chinaski's early years under the thumb of a brutal, oppressive father, and a painful adolescence, lonely and isolated. It moves on to his brief college experience, then the life of hard jobs and heavy drinking. Although his writing was not well known in the United States, he enjoyed considerable popularity in Europe, and publication of his work there began to give him a measure of financial success. This success was enhanced when he was asked to write a screenplay. The result was the movie Barfly (1987), starring Mickey Rourke as Chinaski at the age of twenty-four. Bukowski's experience with the making of the movie is documented in the novel Hollywood (1989). His last novel, Pulp (1994), was published a few months after his death from leukemia at age 73. On the surface, it is a spoof of the hard-boiled detective genre. But the humorous novel explores questions of identity, the meaning of life, and the interaction of literature and life.
Throughout his career, Bukowski's reception by the critics was mixed. Many regarded his work as merely a re-hash of the sexual escapade literature of Henry Miller, covering ground that had already been explored, and adding nothing new. He is dismissed by some as a misogynist and sexist. But many critics perceive a tongue-in-cheek aspect behind the macho posturing. Russell Harrison observes, "The effect of Bukowski's depiction of women, chauvinist though it can be, is quite different from what his predecessors and contemporaries produced. Although depicting Chinaski as sexist, Bukowski at the same time, and more tellingly, goes to great pains to undermine this position." Indeed, it would be more accurate to characterize Chinaski as "pseudo-macho." Harrison points out numerous examples in Bukowski's novels where traditional macho roles are reversed, where the woman is the sexual aggressor who wants a man for only one thing and dumps him if he cannot perform to her satisfaction. He says, "… we have an absolute reversal of the scene where the woman (traditionally viewed as the romantic in such situations) falls in love and it is the man who makes (or thinks) the distinction between love and sex." There is also an insight into human weakness that raises Bukowski's work above the gutter it describes. Elizabeth Young observes, "In addition to its acerbic edge, Bukowski's writing always possessed a sense of the frailty of human endeavor … Bukowski's was a lifelong struggle to express himself clearly, honestly and concisely. He has similarities with Henry Miller and, like Miller, has had trouble over his alleged 'sexism.'…" Several other critics also comment on the influences of Hemingway and Miller. Julian Smith says, "Ernest Hemingway, the most accessible modernist, provided Bukowski with a macho role model, an existential material, and an experimental style already pushed in the direction of American 'speech.'" Several critics have commented on the presence of Bukowski's voice in his work. As Smith notes, "The intrusions of the author/narrator into the text are integral to many Bukowski stories, not merely winking to the reader but pointing up the text's artificial, fictive status. A playfulness clearly places Bukowski in the same camp as the postmoderns…." Throughout most of his poetry and fiction, Bukowski's real life is the subject matter. This became more evident as Bukowski began to achieve success and recognition. His persona of a hard-drinking, hard-living, tough guy began to become a burden. In the Barfly screenplay and the novel Hollywood, Bukowski probes the influence of money and fame on his alter-egos. Elizabeth Young, speaking of this transition, says that "Despite his decades of devoted reading and writing, his straightforward, largely autobiographical work received little attention until his middle years, when he was discovered by a disaffected post-Beat audience of younger readers…. His persona became increasingly fixed and near-parodic but he did attempt to write about the cryptic, complex ways of fame with honesty and intelligence." Bukowski dealt with the success of being offered a contract for a screenplay by doing one about his youth when he was an impoverished drunk. The theme of fame and money occurring by chance, and that the successful writer is the same person who was the hopeless drunk became central to much of Bukowski's work. Speaking of Hollywood, Stan Thies says, "Bukowski's foray through tinsel town doesn't produce the easy results we might expect. In a certain sense he sets a trap for the reader. Early on we are on the lookout for some scapegoat, someone who can be blamed for sustaining a world which so magically trades off quality and dealing. We never really find one, and perhaps we never really find the hero-god either." An actor thrives by losing the self while a writer such as Bukowski needs the self in order to record it. And it is this willingness to lay bare his exploration of his private self that many critics find as Bukowski's most valuable contribution to literature. The less autobiographical novel, Pulp, also deals with issues that are impending in Bukowski's life. As Dick Lochte observes, "Pulp was printed only months after his death … Though a few decades younger, [the novel's hero] Belane's sense of his own mortality is acute. Everywhere he looks he sees people and places he knew leaving the scene." The novel is described by some as a parody of the work of Chandler and Hammett, and credited with varying degrees of success on that level. But its exploration of the questions of mortality are more widely praised. George Stade says, "As parody, Pulp does not cut very deep. As a farewell to readers, as a gesture of rapprochement with death, as Bukowski's sendup and send-off of himself, this bio-parable cuts as deep as you would want."
Flower, Fist, and Bestial Wail (poetry) 1959
Run with the Hunted (poetry) 1962
Poems and Drawings (poetry) 1962
It Catches My Heart in Its Hands: New and Selected Poems, 1955–1963 (poetry) 1963
Grasp the Walls (poetry) 1964
Cold Dogs in the Courtyard (poetry) 1965
Crucifix in a Deathhand: New Poems, 1963–1965 (poetry) 1965
The Genius of the Crowd (poetry) 1966
True Story (poetry) 1966
On Going Out to Get the Mail (poetry) 1966
To Kiss the Worms Goodnight (poetry) 1966
The Girls (poetry) 1966
The Flower Lover (poetry) 1966
Night's Work (poetry) 1966
2 by Bukowski (poetry) 1967
The Curtains Are Waving (poetry) 1967
At Terror Street and Agony Way (poetry) 1968
Poems Written before Jumping out of an 8-Story Window (poetry) 1968
If We Take … (poetry) 1969
The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses over the Hills (poetry) 1969
Another Academy (poetry) 1970
Fire Station (poetry) 1970
Post Office (novel) 1971
Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness (short stories) 1972, abridged edition published as Life and Death in the Charity Ward, 1974
Mockingbird, Wish Me Luck (poetry) 1972
Me and Your Sometimes Love Poems (poetry) 1972
Notes of a Dirty...
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SOURCE: "Paying for Horses," in London Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 15, December 1974/January 1975, pp. 35-54.
[In the following interview, Bukowski discusses his writing and life.]
Charles Bukowski was born in Andernach, Germany. When he was two years old, his parents brought him to the United States; and he was raised in Los Angeles, where, after a long period of bumming around the country, he still lives.
Bukowski, mostly self-educated, began writing in his early twenties. Ignored, he stopped. Ten years later he started again and since then has published about twenty books of poetry, hundreds of short stories and one novel, Post Office. Bukowski's writing is about an existence he once sought out for himself, so knows firsthand: he writes about the lower classes paddling as fast as they can to avoid drowning in the shit life pours on them. His characters, if they are employed at all, hold down dull, starvation-wage jobs. Off work they drink too much and live chaotically. Their attempts to make it—with women, at the race track or simply from day to day—are sometimes pathetic, sometimes nasty, often hilarious.
On the day of this interview, Bukowski was living, temporarily, in a typical Los Angeles apartment building: low and square with a paved courtyard in the center. He was standing at the top of the stairs that led to his second-floor rooms....
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SOURCE: "The Pock-marked Poetry of Charles Bukowski: Notes of a Dirty Old Mankind," in Rolling Stone, June 17, 1976, pp. 28-34.
[In the following interview, Esterly and Bukowski discuss topics such as the author's writing, his life, his relationships with women, and other issues.]
In preparation for tonight's poetry reading, Charles Bukowski is out in the parking lot, vomiting. He always vomits before readings; crowds give him the jitters. And tonight there's a big crowd. Some 400 noisy students—many of whom have come directly from nearby 49rs tavern—are packed into an antiseptic auditorium at California State University at Long Beach on this fourth night of something called Poetry Week. Not exactly the kind of event calculated to set the campus astir, as evidenced by the sparse audiences for readings by other poets on the first three nights. But Bukowski always attracts a good crowd. He has a reputation here—for his performances as well as his poetry. Last time he was here, he had both an afternoon and an evening reading. In between, he got hold of a bottle and slipped over the edge. Too drunk to read at the evening performance, he decided to entertain the students by exchanging insults with them. It developed into quite a show.
Backstage, Leo Mailman, publisher of a small literary magazine and coordinator of tonight's reading, peeks between the stage curtains for a look at the...
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SOURCE: A review of The Bukowski/Purdy Letters, in Canadian Materials for Schools and Libraries, Volume XII, No. 6, November 1984, pp. 253-54.
[In the following review, Kingstone questions the wisdom of publishing the correspondence of these two authors.]
The advantage of reading a writer's letters is that one sees, often quite easily, the shape of informal thought that is frequently more revealing than the author's published work. By reading diaries and letters written to close friends, private communication, we see a writer's life focused for us in sharper detail; at least, that is the idea. But I cannot help but think that the private world disclosed for this reader in The Bukowski/Purdy Letters 1964–1974 would have been better left to the world of private correspondence. The writing is undistinguished; and, while one marvels at the spontaneity and the evolution of a friendship, the exchange of letters more often than not celebrates drinking and womanizing. The rather immature boasting by each becomes tedious, and though it echoes Hemingway and Dylan Thomas, at least with them there were letters whose critical intelligence redeemed any masculine posturing. In Bukowski/Purdy, one has to look very hard indeed to discover any insights into the craft of writing. Scrape away the occasional inventive misspelling or pun, and the very occasional verbal facility (as in the description of...
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SOURCE: "Mirror of Ourselves: Notes on Bukowski's Post Office," in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 5, No. 3, Fall 1985, pp. 39-42.
[In the following favorable review, Glazier discusses the novel Post Office, in which he sees a cogent macrocosm of the human condition.]
When Post Office, Bukowski's first published novel, came off the press in 1971, an important moment in the history of modern American literature occurred. Bukowski stood like a giant, one foot astride each of two continents: poetry and prose; pornography and belles letters; suicide and sainthood; Europe and America; the underground press and the brackish water of the literati. A truly historic first novel, Post Office was as definitive as a line drawn in the dirt.
Bukowski had stepped forward from the maelstrom of prophetic vision, having established himself securely by such visionary poetic works as Flowers, Fist and Bestial Wail (1960), Crucifix in a Deathhand (1965), and the collection The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses over the Hills (1969). He was able to turn his hand to fiction with a perspective unequaled in contemporary American letters. He had been through a stripping-down that would've killed any ordinary person. And yet Bukowski, rather than being weakened by each successive defoliation, seemed to get stronger with the knowledge of what was necessary. He...
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SOURCE: "Charles Bukowski and the Avante-Garde," in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 5, No. 3, Fall 1985, pp. 56-59.
[In the following review, Smith discusses the humor in Bukowski's short stories.]
What is the avant-garde? A cultural elite, making Advanced or High Art, but it is also a tradition of the untraditional. Precedents exist for virtually every avant-garde eccentricity or innovation. As Roland Barthes puts it, "The avant-garde is never anything but the progressive, emancipated form of past culture." While it may become politicized (during the Vietnam War, even "the gloriously impertinent Bukowski" was temporarily radicalized), it is typically individualist, antiformal, anarchistic. Bohemian life-styles, épater les bourgeois, the alienation (psychological, ethical, economic) of the artist from society: Bukowski's writing echoes all these attitudes.
Bukowski's opposition to the status quo is signaled by his language. The tough-drunk persona created in the writing is intimately linked to the way in which his fictions operate, and he shows enormous resource in working a subversive content on the linguistic level. We term "postmodern" those writers who have learned from modernism, and then added extrastylistic components. While Bukowski had to erase other voices from his work (Céline, John Fante), he rewrote Hemingway with postmodern laughter, forming an utterly...
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SOURCE: "South of No North: Bukowski in Deadly Earnest," in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 5, No. 3, Fall 1985, pp. 52-55.
[In the following review, Weinstein examines the similarities in Bukowski's short story collection to the fiction of Hemingway.]
In no other collection of Bukowski's fiction does Ernest Hemingway's ghost play such a major role. Even the book title, with that flatly articulated oxymoron reminiscent of Men without Women and Winner Take Nothing, alerts the reader to the Hemingway presence. The Bukowski/Hemingway connection is one riddled with complex ambivalences. I trust this brief reading of South of No North might indicate a few dimensions of that knot.
A first reading of Bukowski's collection evoked thoughts of his consciously creating a parody of the Hemingway style. Consider this excerpt from Bukowski's "Loneliness":
"Maybe I'm no good at sex," said Edna, "maybe that's why I'm alone." She took another drink from the glass.
"Each of us is, finally, alone," said Joe.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, no matter how well it's going sexually or love-wise or both, the day arrives when it's over."
There is the identical sound of simply cadenced American speech bonded by conversational syntax,...
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SOURCE: "Bukowski's Hollywood," in ENclitic, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1985, pp. 89-93.
[In the following essay, Theis explores the connections between Bukowski's novel, Hollywood, his screenplay for the movie Barfly, and the author's life.]
Even for the artist or writer who silently screams refusals to be caught, coopted, by the lures of commercial culture, the dreams of monetary success are hard to fight off. The big bucks for landing a script at a more upscale studio privy to the points where culture and cash separate and merge together, or for a book contract at one of the major publishing houses, have the power to give artists and writers a dose of schizophrenia. Ego and lust tempered by the gnawing desire for creature comforts batters the artistic temperament with a reckoning force, especially in Hollywood town where movies are the art form, where art and cash might be more incestuously connected. And this might be changing the status of the struggling culture-producer who batters away on the fringe of substantial reward in pursuit of lofty goals and untainted absolutes. With such dismal prospects for survival in a time when Gentry and working class heroes look at each other across a wider rift than ever (the lofty can't be sketched out in downtown LA lofts affordable now only by the upwardly mobile brokers of this and that commodity), the notion of the struggling artist may becoming a...
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SOURCE: A review of Hollywood, in Small Press, Vol. 8, No. 1, p. 36.
[In the review below, Funari provides a brief plot summary of the novel Hollywood.]
The movie-making machinations of the title town are exposed in this thinly veiled roman à clef about a hard-drinking poet-novelist turned screenwriter. Presumably based on his experiences writing the movie, Barfly, Bukowski lays open the absurdity and egotism of the film industry from the worm's-eye view of a screenwriter.
Harry Chinanski has been asked by Jon Pinchot, a French director, to write a screenplay. Pinchot doesn't seem to care what the story is about. Neither does Chinanski; he's more concerned about where his next drink is coming from, and when. Sarah, his wife, is amenable to all this, matching her husband drink for drink and concerned only about getting home in time to feed their five cats. The couple takes a precarious journey through the land of corrupt backers and bizarre creative types where the writer "was where he belonged, in some dark corner, watching."
This novel is funny, and it moves quickly. When Chinanski isn't being updated on the movie's progress, he's playing the ponies. Alcohol and its accoutrements have as large a part as any of the characters. Nestled between the progress reports are anecdotes from Chinanski's past which are now enacted in "The Dance of Jim Beam,"...
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SOURCE: "Cries of pain from a man of letters," in Chicago Tribune Books, January 30, 1994, p. 7.
[In the following review, Dretzka reviews the collection of Bukowski's letters: Screams from the Balcony.]
Hearse, Gallows, Eros, Scimitar and Song, Harlequin, Coffin, Outsider, Black Cat Review, Wormwood Review, Windfall Press, Ole, Evidence, Choice, Mimeo Press, Klacto, Intrepid, Open City … Black Sparrow.
Such were the names of the little magazines, chapbooks, literary pamphlets and broadsheets that flourished in a purely non-financial sense of the word in the 1960's, before Xerox machines and desktop computers would revolutionize the way writers placed their words in front of hungry readers.
The titles roll off the tongue like poetry itself and represent, at least for Charles Bukowski—America's grand old man of letters—a neat encapsulation of his struggle to be regularly published between 1958 and 1970, the period covered in this collection of letters. Letters?… Cries of pain would be more like it.
The span takes us from Hearse—one of the little magazines that first printed Bukowski's poems after his 10-year break from writing—to Black Sparrow, which continues to produce lovely books from its Santa Rosa, Calif, base. It also matches the Los Angeles barfly's abject search for recognition, from actually paying to have poems reproduced,...
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SOURCE: "Death Comes for the Detective," in The New York Times Book Review, June 5, 1994, pp. 49-50.
[In the following review, Stade provides a plot summary of Bukowski's last novel, Pulp.]
Charles Bukowski, ur-beatnik and author of more than 40 volumes of countercultural prose and verse, finished Pulp shortly before he died of leukemia at the age of 73 in March. Pulp is a spoof of the hard-boiled detective novel, especially as perpetrated by Mickey Spillane. It does not, of course, take much to send up the hard-boiled detective novel—all you have to do is write one. The conventions by now seem to mock themselves, if you stand back a bit. But Pulp does more than stand back from itself.
Bukowski's hard-boiled dick is one Nick Belane, although he sometimes wonders, apropos of nothing, whether he isn't really Harry Martel, whoever he is. Business is slow, but Belane occupies himself by catching flies and drinking from the bottle he keeps in his desk, a bottle of sake. On the job he will make do with Scotch or vodka with beer chasers. ("Nice thing about being a drunk, though, you were never constipated.") He also keeps in his desk a gun, variously described as a Luger, a .45, a .32—something worth getting straight, you would think. On the wall of his office is a "fake Dali," the melting watch.
Belane rolls his own cigarettes when not smoking...
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SOURCE: "Bum steered," in New Statesman and Society, June 17, 1994, pp. 37-38.
[Young provides a favorable review of the Bukowski anthology Run With The Hunted: A Charles Bukowski Reader.]
Any serious reader thinks they know only too well what Charles Bukowski's work will deliver. Wet rings on bar counters; the swish of the barman's dirty cloth. Rotgut whisky and paint-stripper wine. Misanthropy. Despair. Women with big, swaying bottoms and very high heels. A touch of misogyny. Barflies, bums, floozies, the tote, the track and the betting shop. He's typing in his underwear in a low-rent room, with a filthy glass, an empty bottle and an overflowing ashtray beside him. Yes, we had him well sussed.
And so, with all due respect to this recently departed author, why read any more of the old fart's books? After all there are nearly 50 of them—poetry, short stories and novels (as well as the screenplay for Barfly)—with his reason for choosing one form over another often seeming to be quite arbitrary.
These were my feelings, vaguely, upon picking up Run With The Hunted, and seldom have smug assumptions been so suddenly and sharply rebuked. I read this at one sitting and found it to be one of the rarest of volumes—a beautifully edited anthology of a writer's work, collated by an editor profoundly sympathetic to his author's intentions.
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SOURCE: "Lady Death and Aliens from the Planet Zaros," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 30, 1994, p. 11.
[In the following, Lochte summarizes and favorably reviews Pulp.]
Private eye Nick Belane sits in his sleazy downtown L.A. office, alone and lonely. It's hot outside and his air conditioner is on the fritz. His rent is overdue. He looks at a fly crawling across the top of his desk. Ever since the prime of Raymond Chandler, and probably long before that, fictional private eyes have been sitting at their desks, sweating and studying flies. But Pulp's Belane is a little different. A woozily parodic creation of the swirling mind of the late writer-poet Charles Bukowski, he is both earthier and more fanciful than his predecessors. And his pursuits are certainly more literary.
For example, Chandler's Philip Marlowe (in the novel The Little Sister) uses a swatter on his fly, then picks the insect up daintily by one wing and deposits it into a wastebasket. Belane smashes his with his bare hand and, barely pausing to wipe the result onto his pants leg, he fields a call from a client. It's Lady Death. Not some television horror movie hostess, but the genuine article. She hires Belane to find Louis-Ferdinand Celine, who has been seen at a used book store searching for Faulkner first editions. The problem is that the French novelist died back in the '60s. And if that isn't...
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SOURCE: "Sex, Women, and Irony," from Against the American Dream: Essays on Charles Bukowski, Black Sparrow Press, 1994, pp. 183-215.
[In the following essay, Harrison challenges the common view of Bukowski as a chauvinist and misogynist. He illustrates his point with several selections from Post Office, Factotem, and Women, in which Bukowski ironically deconstructs the macho male image.]
"Why can't you be decent to people?" she asked.
"Fear," I said.
No aspect of Bukowski's writing has been more sharply criticized than his portrayal of women. In response to his early work, one critic [Len Fulton] wrote (hyperbolically but with some justification):
Bukowski's antics with women, his thoughts about them, are one vast and sniggering cliché. He has nothing to tell us about them because, I'm convinced, he knows nothing about them (e.g., "the ladies will always be the same.") and is determined at this point not to learn. They are a dirty joke to him, a dirty joke on him. Inside the web of his booze-bull-and-broad exploits lurks a demon sexual jingoist, erupting and irrupting in self-punishing concatenations; hostile, frustrated, pugilistic—fearful of the role into which (he thinks) one is cast by fate of genitalia.
Although such a characterization is no longer valid, it represents an...
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SOURCE: "Gab Poetry, or Ducks vs. Nightingale Music: Charles Bukowski," in Where the Bee Sucks: Workers, Drones, and Queens of Contemporary American Poetry, Santa Maria: Asylum Arts, 1994, pp. 56-66.
[In the following essay, Peters discusses the elements of Bukowski's poetry.]
I once witnessed a Charles Bukowski first: the debut of the great raunchy poet as actor. The vehicle, The Tenant, was a two character drama written by Linda King. Bukowski contributed lines of his own, better developing his own image in the play. This line was his addition, as delivered by Miss King: "You may be the greatest poet of the century, but you sure can't fuck." In a lively way The Tenant turns upon the problem of whether a super-poet should move in with his girlfriend, who would then, one would suppose, buy him his beer, give him bj's, and let him abuse her. The event was choice. An actor scheduled to read the Bukowski role was unable to show, so Buk took over.
There were twenty people in the well of the Pasadena Museum—sad, alas, because of the significance of the event. Bukowski, script in hand, trod the boards. The props were a telephone—used with nearly as much frequency as Barbara Stanwyck's in Sorry, Wrong Number; a mattress upon which King and Bukowski, scripts in hand, fell to enact their erotic comings after dismal separations. The performance, pixie-ish, included...
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SOURCE: A review of The Bukowski/Purdy Letters, A Decade of Dialogue, in American Book Review, Vol. 16, No. 6, March/May 1995, pp. 17-18.
[Sward offers a short, favorable review, including some excerpts from the letters between Al Purdy and Bukowski.]
In 1964, Canadian poet Al Purdy (author of The Stone Bird; Sex And Death; etc.) discovered and reviewed Charles Bukowski's It Catches My Heart In Its Hands for Evidence Magazine. Purdy mailed a copy of his review to Bukowski who responded with a letter and the correspondence that gave rise to The Bukowski/Purdy Letters, A Decade Of Dialogue was underway.
What was in it for Bukowski?
"Getting a letter from Purdy always got my day up off the floor. I found my life more than unappealing and his letters lent a steadiness, some hope, and some hardrock wisdom," wrote Bukowski in the book's Preface. "I wrote letters to many in those days, it was rather my way of screaming from my cage. It helped, that and the gambling, the drinking, the paintings, the poems and the short stories."
Purdy, in his Foreword to this handsomely designed Paget Press book, describes himself as "a pretty callow 45-year-old … with too much ego and too little talent." Purdy is by turns modest, boastful, belligerent, charming, supportive—as only a friend can be—of Bukowski's numerous ups and downs, and not...
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SOURCE: A review of Pulp, in World Literature Today, Autumn 1995, pp. 791-92.
[Nericcio favorably reviews Pulp, citing a poetic essence to the novel that complements and transcends the genre it emulates.]
"It was a hellish hot day and the air conditioner was broken. A fly crawled across the top of my desk. I reached out with the open palm of my hand and sent him out of the game." These lines are from the opening page of Pulp, the posthumous "last" novel by our singular American troubadour of the down-and-out. Charles Bukowski, and his words here encapsulate nicely his general concern in this novel with death. With "Lady Death," to be more specific, and to disclose also the largely allegorical structuring of the piece. With Bukowski's own recent death, it takes the reader some work to get past seeing chief protagonist Nick Belane, private dick, as a loosely sealed surrogate for the late Bukowski himself. "a loser, a dick who couldn't solve anything." Bukowski was known for taking self-deprecation to new heights: not for nothing is Pulp dedicated to "bad writing." Not that he did not respect his works—he did, but he did not take them so seriously that he imagined himself the grand artist. Delusions like that might get in the way of a good drink.
Pulp is "pulp fiction" with a twist. As with Quentin Tarantino's movie Pulp Fiction, the novel...
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Cherkovski, Neeli. Hank: The Life and Times of Charles Bukowski, New York: Random House, 1991, 337 pp.
Cherkovski is a widely published writer, critic, and editor. Drawing from numerous interviews with Bukowski and several of the author's friends, he provides a detailed portrait of the writer's life.
Cherkovski, Neeli. "Notes on a Dirty Old Man." Whitman's Wild Children. Venice, CA: The Lapis Press, 1988: 1-38.
In his chapter on Bukowski, Cherkovski combines anecdotes of meetings with the author and criticism of his work.
Harrison, Russell. Against the American Dream: Essays on Charles Bukowski. Santa Rosa, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1994, 323 pp.
In the twelve chapters of his book, Harrison focuses in on various aspects of Bukowski's poetry and fiction.
Glover, David. "A Day at the Races: Gambling and Luck in Bukowski's Fiction." Review of Contemporary Fiction 5, No. 3 (Fall 1985): 32-33.
Glover examines Bukowski's use of luck as a counter-point to the implied fatalism of his writing.
Kessler, Stephen. "Notes on a Dirty Old Man." Review of Contemporary Fiction 5,...
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